Education Can Protect Children from a Life of Exploitation

Education is a basic human right, an investment for the future peace and prosperity of our world.

Education can protect entire generations of at-risk communities from cycles of poverty. The opportunity to go to school not only opens more and new vocational opportunities, increases earning potential, improves health outcomes and promotes girls’ rights, but – for the most vulnerable children – education can be the difference between freedom and lifelong exploitation.

There is a growing recognition of the need to reach the most vulnerable, the marginalised, the poor, those in conflict and emergency situations. Ensuring equitable access to education for these children is critical to eradicating poverty.

For those vulnerable to exploitation, the chance to receive an education provides protection for themselves and for future generations and can be the difference between life and death.

There are an estimated 168 million child labourers in the world today, more than half of whom are engaged in the most hazardous forms of labour – those who are trafficked, forced and bonded labour, prostitution and child soldiering – harmful to their health, safety and emotional well-being.

For these children, realising the right to education is an uphill struggle. And the relationship goes both ways – while child labour keeps many children out of the classroom, out-of-school children are at greater risk of falling into abusive labour circumstances.

Lack of education not only makes children more vulnerable to exploitation as child labourers, but it also leaves them vulnerable to manipulation by exploitive employers into their adult lives – potentially affecting their families for multiple generations.

Traffickers and employers of bonded labourers target the uneducated for exploitation. They take advantage of the illiteracy, innumeracy and ignorance of the law common among vulnerable populations.

Many bonded labourers in India, for example, do not realise that they are in a situation of illegal bondage. Traffickers and bonded slave owners are able to manipulate labourers who are offered an initial “advance” – usually a small amount of money – to lure them to work, then kept in slave-like conditions until the “debt” is repaid.